The pollution of six agricultural areas of Greece (north, central, south) by insecticides used in crop protection has been investigated utilizing, as a bioindicator, bee honey produced in those areas. Honey samples collected randomly from apiaries located in those areas were analyzed for pesticide residues with a multianalytical method, able to determine simultaneously up to 10 organophosphorous insecticides from the same honey extract. Findings concerning the acaricide coumaphos were also included, even though it is not used in crop protection. Coumaphos is used to control the mite Varroa destructor, an external parasite of the honeybee. The above areas are cultivated in large extent with citrus trees or cotton or sunflower crops, which are good forages for honeybees. The main pests of those crops are insects; hence, insecticides are used on a large scale for crop protection. The most contaminated samples originated from citrus groves; 16 out of 19 had pesticide residues: 4 samples had chlorfenvinphos (21.05%), 10 had chlorpyrifos (52.63%) and 2 had phorate (10.53%). Out of 17 samples from cotton fields, residues were found in 8, phorate in 6 (35.29%), chlorfenvinphos in 1 (5.88%), and chlorpyrifos in 1 (5.88%). Out of nine samples from fields of sunflower, four had phorate residues (44.44%). In brief, from the 50 analyzed samples, residues of chlorfenvinphos were detected in 5 samples (10%), residues of chlorpyrifos in 11 samples (22%), and residues of phorate in 12 samples (24%). Their levels ranged between 0.70 and 0.89 μg/kg. Coumaphos residues ranged from 0.10 up to 4.80 μg/kg and were derived exclusively from beehives treated with Perizin (the commercial formulation of coumaphos) for Varroa control.
This study indicates that in agricultural areas with developed apiculture, useful information about the occurrence and the distribution of pesticide residues due to crop protection treatments can be derived from the analysis of randomly collected honey samples, used as bioindicators. It also shows that, very often, the chemicals used by apiculturists inside the hives in order to control disease are the main pollutants of the produced honey.